Joanne Stern, Ph.D.

Joanne Stern Ph.D.

Parenting Is a Contact Sport

Teaching Your Kids That Silence Is Golden

Some days you crave quiet, but your kids are yelling.

Posted May 31, 2011

Some days you just crave quiet. Your soul is yearning for calm and you're thirsty for an environment with no chaos, no upheaval and no loud noises.

But your kids are yelling!

How do you deal? By screaming at them to be quiet? I hope not, because your best strategy is to model the behavior you want from them.

But think about it. No wonder kids are noisy-they're surrounded by man-made sound almost constantly. Noise is so commonplace to them that they are often uncomfortable in silence. In a world where kids and adults alike are plugged into technology and listening to TV, videos and music, teaching our kids to be quiet is a precious lesson-one that helps them get calm and in touch with their inner selves.

Here are some strategies to get kids to be quiet.

1. First and foremost, always try positive reinforcement for good behavior. Praise them when they do what you ask. Kids love to please and want to know when they've done it well. They usually do what they think you expect of them, so if you tell them they're always loud, they'll continue to be loud. If you reprimand them for yelling and tell them how they are misbehaving, they're likely to misbehave and keep yelling because that's what you've focused on. If you want them to be still, then tell them how much you like it when they're quiet. Let them know that you expect that they will be soft and gentle. Focus on the positive behavior you know they can do, not the negative behavior they sometimes engage in, in order to get more of that positive behavior.

2. Next, be clear about what you mean by getting quiet. Is it total silence you want or just not yelling and causing commotion? When you say, "Please be quiet." your children might not even know exactly what you're asking of them.

3. Talk with your kids about the value of stillness-how it relaxes your mind and renews your spirit and allows you to get in touch with what's going on inside you.

4. Set aside times at home where no one will be plugged in to anything. As a family, you can use this time to read or have quiet conversation.

5. Go for walks with your kids in nature and allow them to experience the beauty and wonder of solitude where you focus on the songs of the birds overhead and the crunching of grasses and twigs under foot.

6. Use times in the car when no one listens to music and you allow your kids to sit in silence-just looking outside the car window absorbing what is there. You can even make a game of what they spy while looking quietly outside.

7. Talk with your children about what they feel when there is silence and how they experience being quiet.

Of course, there are different methods for helping differently aged kids be still.

For ages 0 - 5:

a) Distract them. Get them engaged in singing their favorite song. Read them a story or tell them a story that captures their imagination and makes them forget their loud words. b) A firm no, if they're yelling, is impactful. They don't want to upset you or displease you and are most likely to get quiet. c) Give them a time out if they don't do as you ask. But don't get angry. It's never a good idea to discipline out of anger because your kids learn that they get punished when you get angry rather than when they misbehave. It also makes them more afraid of you when you discipline in anger-and fear causes kids to close down and become more distant from you rather than building a close, trusting relationship with you. d) Create a quiet area-a small table and chair with a decoration they like. Have a book, a favorite toy or coloring book with crayons to entertain them. Take them there when they're being too loud-not as a punishment, but as a place to re-set their decibel level and their mood.

For ages 5 - 10:

a) Set aside quiet times to read in order to teach them that they don't always have to be engaged in loud activities. b) Talk with your kids about your family values and include the value of quiet times, respect for others in the family and why these are important for all of you. Talk at their age level but begin to have these conversations about what is important to all of you in your family. c) Make sure they are getting the overall attention they need. If they're not, kids will act out negatively just to get attention-because negative attention is better than no attention.

For ages pre-teen and teen:

You can now talk with them as adults. a) Ask them for their help in setting the tone for the evening. This shows respect for their maturity and increases self-esteem to ask for their help. b) Set guidelines-with your kids-as to when there will be TV and music on, how people will talk to each other, what is acceptable in speech patterns and loudness and what is not. Along with these guidelines ask them to help you set consequences if they don't adhere to what you decide. They need to learn that there will be consequences, but they need to be a part of setting them so they don't rebel if or when you need to impose them. Imposing consequences feels different than punishing them because they have had a part in setting those consequences. Punishment, on the other hand, tends to feel like something is being done to them that they have no control over. Therefore, it tends to elicit more intense emotions and even rebellion.

Above all, always treat your children with respect. You can't expect them to treat you better than you treat them. They take their cues from you, so take the high road. You're the parent-don't allow your kids to drag you down to their level. Be gentle, be consistent and enjoy the golden gift of silence your kids give to you.

For additional tips on creating a positive environment in your family, check out my book, "Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life."

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